Thursday, March 11, 2010

Benedict's "Defining Moment"?

Earlier today, an impeccably-briefed friend in Rome closed a rushed note with an ominous take: "The implosion has begun...."

No doubt, that assessment is fairly dramatic. Still, with the president of the German bishops due to hold crisis talks with his countryman-Pope tomorrow morning, Austria's senior churchman -- once the lead editor of the first universal catechism in five centuries -- calling for an "unflinching examination" of (among other things) priestly celibacy in the face of scandal (then seeking to row back the comment), the Holy See's own newspaper on an astonishing front-page tear and, even if not personally responsible nor implicated, the specter of revelations reaching to the august choir led for three decades by B16's own brother, it's safe to say that, as never before and all in a matter of days, the "Long Lent" wrought by the global reports of sexual abuse by clergy -- and, above all, its woeful mishandling by church institutions -- has landed on the Vatican's doorstep with a seismic, shattering thud. And what's more, compared to the fallout that's rocked the church in most of the English-speaking world these last two decades, the Holy See's response to the developments of recent days has arguably been unlike anything even longtime observers have ever seen.

Of course, what'll come tomorrow morning, as the pontiff receives the head of the Deutschebench, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, remains unclear... yet in the meanwhile, among others, Reuters' Tom Heneghan and The Times of London's Richard Owen highlight the stakes, the latter going so far as to declare that "how [Benedict] responds" to the quickly-unfolding crisis centered in his homeland could prove to be -- at least, as external perception goes -- "the defining moment of his pontificate." (For good measure, the conservative church commentator Bob Moynihan -- a veteran of the Vatican beat -- echoed the point earlier today, noting in his latest e.mail dispatch that "the battle occurring right now is over how history will judge Benedict's papacy.")

Ergo, welcome to uncharted territory, folks. Above all, hold fast and pray... and, even amid the rough seas, stay tuned.

SVILUPPO: In comments reported by Reuters, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller of Regensburg -- home of the pontiff's brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger -- sounded a firm note at a Roman press conference tonight:
"A lot of this is a great fuss made by mass media and we have other problems in Germany at the moment," Mueller told journalists at the Vatican. "Besides, there is no need to act because those are cases in the past."

"We can't turn back the clock but our main task is to offer justice to the victims from that time."...

"The Holy Father does not need to be called for help because we as the Church and we as the German bishops are perfectly capable of dealing with this situation," Mueller said.
PHOTO: Reuters